Shanghai, China, Nov 8 – LiAngelo Ball, the younger brother of Los Angeles Lakers star Lonzo Ball, was among three college basketball players arrested in China on suspicion of shoplifting, US media reports said Wednesday.
Ball, who is with the UCLA basketball team ahead of their season-opening game against Georgia Tech in Shanghai on Saturday, was detained on suspicion of shoplifting from a Louis Vuitton store with teammates Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, ESPN reported.
The channel said the players were arrested Tuesday after around 20 police officers descended on their hotel in Hangzhou near Shanghai, where the team had visited the headquarters of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, a sponsor of the game.
ESPN later quoted an unnamed source saying the trio were released early Wednesday on bail.
A Hangzhou government spokesperson confirmed to AFP that three American citizens had been arrested on suspicion of shoplifting but referred further questions to police, who could not be reached Wednesday.
ESPN said police questioned members of both teams in the hotel and later took away the three UCLA players.
It remained unclear whether they would face charges. Shoplifting can bring a prison term of several years in China.
ESPN quoted its source as saying the three would have to stay in Hangzhou until legal proceedings were completed. The rest of the team has already returned to Shanghai.
A US State Department official told AFP the department was aware of the reported arrest and stood “ready to assist” but declined further comment.
LiAngelo Ball is one of three basketball-playing siblings who have emerged on the national stage in the US in recent years, fuelled in part by father LaVar’s aggressive promotion of his sons as future NBA superstars.
The shoplifting reports threaten to tarnish that campaign, which has included LaVar Ball’s creation of the “Big Baller Brand” shoe and apparel line “inspired” by his three sons.
The brand has promotional events planned for Friday in Shanghai, including an appearance by LaVar with autograph signings, according to the store where it will be held.
LaVar, who is accompanying the team on the trip, was seen in videos posted on Twitter saying he would not comment until he had more information, while saying it “ain’t that big a deal”.
Eldest brother Lonzo joined the Lakers this year after just one season with UCLA, while youngest brother LaMelo Ball is still in high school but also on the radar as a future professional.
The Pac-12 conference to which UCLA belongs said it was “very disappointed by any situation that detracts” from the China visit.
“Whether in the United States or abroad, we expect our student-athletes to uphold the highest standards,” it said on Twitter.
LaVar is frequently criticised in the US over his brash claims, and Twitter users wasted little time taking shots at LiAngelo.
“Season hasn’t even started and he already leads the nation in steals,” said one posting, while others launched a cheeky #FreeLiAngelo hashtag.